The high four congressional leaders are headed to the White House for the first time since 2019

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The New York Times

Exchange Over ‘Purity’ of Vote Puts Texas GOP Firebrand in Spotlight

AUSTIN, Texas — It was an ungainly jiffy for Briscoe Cain, the conservative provocateur and hand-picked Republican chair of the state House Elections Committee, as he fumbled by way of his protection final week of the restrictive new voting invoice his get together is shifting by way of the Texas Legislature. Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat, was grilling Cain, the invoice’s sponsor, a couple of phrase in it calling for the “purity of the ballot box,” asking Cain if he knew that it evoked the discriminatory voting restrictions of Texas’ Jim Crow previous. “Are you aware that references to purity of the ballot box used throughout this country’s history has been a justification for states to disenfranchise groups they deem unfit to vote or somehow lacking?” Anchia requested. Sign up for The Morning e-newsletter from the New York Times “I didn’t know that,” Cain stated haltingly, claiming he adopted the language as a result of it was within the state’s Constitution, earlier than admitting that “these are troubling things.” That opened floodgates for Democrats’ opposition, as they started hammering the construction of the invoice, one in every of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities for the legislative session. Democrats ultimately raised a degree of order and added amendments that softened among the harshest measures. Some of them could also be restored within the subsequent week because the House and the Senate meet in convention to work out the ultimate invoice. Viewed by some as a legislative light-weight and others as a rising conservative firebrand, Cain, 36, was a shock alternative when he was named to guide the House Election Committee earlier this 12 months. As head of the committee, he could be charged with the crucial accountability of serving to move the Republicans’ voting invoice, a precedence with Abbott and a measure that provides restrictions to voting in a state that’s already thought of the toughest within the nation wherein to forged a poll. There could be difficult waters to navigate towards legions of detractors. Cain had solely 4 years of legislative expertise and a repute as a brash and unpredictable combatant for his deeply conservative causes. In 2018, he crashed the state Democratic Party conference and handed out garden indicators that stated, “This home is a gun-free safe space.” After the November election, he flew to Pennsylvania to assist the Trump authorized effort to overturn the outcomes whereas posting selfies. He drew nationwide consideration in 2019 after being briefly barred from Twitter for what was interpreted as a threatening publish towards Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Cain’s fumbling of the questions concerning the “purity of the ballot box” phrase has introduced even better scrutiny to the Houston-area lawmaker. A clip of the change with Anchia went viral on social media, with views climbing into the thousands and thousands, and uncovered Cain as missing data about Texas’ historical past of discrimination towards Black voters. The “purity of the ballot box” language was ultimately eliminated. With simply weeks left earlier than the Republican-controlled Legislature adjourns, Cain will once more play a lead position within the subsequent spherical of sparring over the invoice, this time as one in every of two committee co-chairmen shaping a last model. Critics who’ve protested Cain’s appointment to the committee say his lack of familiarity with the purity phrase and general stewardship of the panel elevate questions on his effectiveness going into the subsequent part of the talk. They additionally cite a chaotic committee session that was compelled to recess after Cain refused to let Nicole Collier, chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, sit in on the session to query witnesses as a nonmember. His error led to a prolonged delay in shifting the invoice ahead and enraged Democrats and civil rights teams. She was permitted to ask questions throughout a subsequent session. “This is our first rodeo with Briscoe Cain,” stated Nina Perales, vp of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who has engaged in authorized battles towards the state in behalf of Texas Latinos since 1996. “And after recovering from the shock that he was appointed chair of the election committee, I mean it’s been one misstep after the next.” Cain’s workplace declined a request for an interview or to reply questions on his change with Anchia. But a number of of his Republican colleagues gave excessive marks for his management and his dealing with of one of many governor’s high priorities. “One of the hardest bills to pass in this building is an omnibus election bill,” stated Rep. Stephanie Klick, a Fort Worth Republican who preceded Cain as Election Committee chair. “I think he’s done amazing being able to get an omnibus bill in his first session as chair.” Bryan Hughes, chairman of the Elections Committee within the state Senate, stated he had a “great relationship” with Cain and gave him a robust endorsement for his grasp of election regulation. “He knows the election code very well,” stated Hughes, who’s from East Texas. “He’s really immersed in it. He’s the ideal representative to be carrying this bill.” But Democrats on Cain’s Republican-dominated committee stated the chairman led in a extremely partisan and autocratic method, shunning any effort to work with Democrats. Rep. Jessica González, a former White House intern who served within the Obama-Biden marketing campaign and is vice chair of the Elections Committee, stated Cain mainly saved her out of the loop regardless of her place as No. 2. “Hey, just give us some notice,” she stated in describing her frustration. “We’ve got to be able to communicate.” Rep. Michelle Beckley, a Democrat who represents a North Texas district that was in Republican management for many years, sat subsequent to Cain on the House flooring over the last session and stated she usually had a pleasant relationship with him, regardless of their partisan variations. “Our politics are a hundred percent polar opposites, but the one thing with Briscoe is that he does keep his word, which I will have to say is a rarity in this building,” she stated. But the voting invoice has been a distinct story, she stated. “I really don’t want to be mean to him, but it was very disorganized from day one,” she stated, recalling that Cain incessantly didn’t comply with protocols and rushed by way of payments, a observe that always led to procedural errors. Perales questioned Cain’s professed unfamiliarity with the poisonous racial historical past of the “purity of the ballot box” phrase. She famous that not less than two outstanding civil rights organizations had submitted written testimony to Cain’s committee condemning the phrase. But Beckley stated she too was unaware of the roots of the language. The day after the House debate, she recalled, Cain got here to her desk and requested, “Did you know about this?” “I’m not going to lie,” she stated in an interview, “I did not know that history.” In 2019, Cain revealed that he has Asperger’s syndrome throughout a speech on the House flooring throughout Autism Awareness Month. He additionally injected a humorous notice: “I suspect many of you are thinking to yourself, so that explains it. And yes, your assumptions are correct — that’s why I’m highly intelligent.” He lives together with his spouse and 5 youngsters in Deer Park, the place he grew up, and serves as a captain within the Texas State Guard. Cain’s four-year tenure within the Legislature has been considerably of a curler coaster, not less than by exterior observations. As a freshmen legislator in 2017, Cain was put on the high of Texas Monthly’s “worst legislators” checklist, which known as him “uninformed and belligerent.” The article cited an occasion when Cain debated a member of his personal get together, Rep. John Zerwas, who’s a health care provider, over funding a state council that promotes palliative care. Cain repeatedly referred to the observe as a “death panel,” although when pressed by Zerwas, he was unable to additional clarify the observe. Eventually he conceded, “I recognize that you know about this and my apologies.” During his tenure in workplace, Cain has cultivated a quippy and lashing social media account that always seeps into right-wing troll territory. He buttresses his on-line repute with a penchant for public stunts. He drew nationwide outrage when he tweeted at O’Rourke, then a Democratic candidate for president, that “My AR is ready for you” when O’Rourke advocated taking away AR-15 rifles after the mass taking pictures in El Paso. O’Rourke likened the tweet to a demise risk, and Twitter suspended Cain’s account for 141 days. Cain’s consideration has just lately turned to voting, and he has authored quite a few payments in 2019 and 2021 that will have introduced a raft of latest restrictions with various levels of severity. Last 12 months, he opposed any enlargement to voting by mail through the pandemic, and Texas was one in every of 5 states that didn’t develop the choice through the common election. In November, when it grew to become clear President Donald Trump had misplaced to President Joe Biden, Cain was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged. “Election fraud is real and we must put an end to it,” he wrote on Facebook on Nov. 6. He shortly joined the Trump authorized effort and took off for Pennsylvania. Before leaving, Cain posted a selfie to his Facebook account, clad in a cowboy hat and clear aviator glasses, captioned, “This Texas lawyer is flying to Philadelphia this morning to link up with a team of attorneys from across the country to fight for a fair and honest election.” His temporary tenure as an election lawyer in Pennsylvania ended with the state Supreme Court rejecting his effort in a unanimous resolution. This article initially appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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